Cochlear Implants Safe for Seniors

The risk of complications from general anesthesia is not especially high for elderly patients having a cochlear implant inserted to correct deafness, according to a new report.

Cochlear implants are devices inserted under the skull that directly translate sound into electrical impulses in the auditory nerves, and can help people hear when conventional hearing aids are no help.

"Physicians should not hesitate to refer patients for cochlear implantation because of their age." Dr. Anil K. Lalwani told Reuters Health.

Lalwani, from New York University School of Medicine, New York, and colleagues investigated age as a risk factor for anesthesia-related complications in 135 patients over 70 undergoing cochlear implantation.

Typically, anesthesia during the procedure lasted about an hour and a half, the team reports. There were only three cases of anesthesia-related complications, and these were in patients classified as higher risk.

The average age of patients with complications was 77 years, the same as that of the others with no complications.

Preexisting conditions "and not advanced age alone" where the only significant risk factors for complications, the researchers conclude.

"We also know that the severe to profoundly deaf elderly do very well with cochlear implantation," Lalwani added. "Thus, patients receiving inadequate benefit from hearing aids who may be candidates for cochlear implants should actively seek/explore this technology."